Duneland Rules: One No, One Yes

The junk that passes for beach-compatible sand is garbage, pure and simple

On paper, East Hampton Village’s proposed code changes to allow some duneland projects to proceed with reduced official scrutiny may make sense; on the ground, however, one of the proposals — to allow property owners to place “beach-compatible” sand on the dunes without applying for a variance from the code — is regrettable. Hearings on these and several other changes are scheduled for tomorrow’s village board meeting.

Our objection to exempting oceanfront property owners from prohibitions that now cover work on the dunes comes down to the simple fact that there is not enough sand to be found of sufficiently high quality. One thing is clear: The junk that passes for beach-compatible sand is garbage, pure and simple.

Take Georgica Beach in East Hampton Village, for example. Stone-flecked yellow sand from who knows where was dumped there to protect the exposed foundation of a guest house. To the east, a lot of the material brought in to protect threatened Montauk resorts has left the beach altered. In several places on the bay beach as well, we picked up bits of asphalt roadway and even what appeared to be a chunk of a green-painted concrete tennis court. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation later told us the detritus came from an A-okay project.

With the standard for what passes as beach sand these days so low, village officials should not ease the way for property owners to fast-track coastal work. In the worst-case scenario, you could expect high “privacy dunes” to arise in these extraordinarily fragile micro­environments. It doesn’t seem as if the village trustees actually thought this through.

Another duneland regulation the board has proposed is reasonable, however. Property owners would be able to seek permits for elevated walkways with reduced paperwork and a minimum of delay. We support this change. On the matter of dune-building, however, the board should take a long, hard look before acting. Exempting property owners from thorough review would be likely to damage natural habitats and diminish the quality of one of East Hampton Village’s most precious assets — its beaches. At a time when projects near the beach should be getting more scrutiny, not less, the proposal is moving village government in the wrong direction.